With almost 1,900 deaths and over 73,000 confirmed cases worldwide from the novel coronavirus, now named CoVID-19, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a Novel Coronavirus Task Force on Feb. 11 to monitor threats in North Carolina.
The new force is co-chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, state health director and the chief medical officer for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and Mike Sprayberry, director of emergency management for the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
It will coordinate efforts at the local, state and national levels to ensure that North Carolina citizens remain safe from the threat of the virus.
“Though currently the risk to North Carolinians is low, we are taking a proactive approach and are prepared for potential scenarios,” Gov. Cooper said in a press release.
Experts said while COVID-19 is of little risk to most North Carolina residents, it never hurts to be prepared.
Dr. David Weber, professor of medicine, pediatrics and epidemiology at UNC who specializes in infectious diseases, said preparedness is never a bad thing, as it is only a matter of time before the next pandemic.
“Whatever we do for preparing for this also means we can prepare for the next influenza pandemic, and it’s only a matter of time before we have another influenza pandemic – could be next year, could be 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, but we will have one, and we have other diseases,” Weber said.
He said preparedness is a must because the lack of threat to North Carolinians could change quickly.
“We have MERS still there, we have Ebola that reappears in Africa periodically, Lassa Fever, so the answer is we have to be prepared for infectious diseases that are both reasonably communicable and have severe outcomes because we’re only a plane ride away from every one of those diseases,” he said.
However, Weber said North Carolinians should be more concerned with more pressing health threats, namely influenza which has killed an estimated 14,000 people in the United States this season.
“We’ll probably have twice that many, versus no deaths in the United States and only 15 cases (of COVID-19)," he said. "So I’d probably be more worried about many other things than I would be about getting novel coronavirus."
Rachel Graham, assistant professor of epidemiology at UNC, echoed Weber’s sentiment.
“It is a respiratory infection, it has a potential to become severe, but really it’s more important on a yearly basis to be worried about influenza,” said Graham.
As for Cooper’s creation of the task force, Graham said she agrees preparedness is always a good thing, especially with a virus we know so little about.
“We still don’t truly understand how this virus is transmitted and how long it requires to incubate in people before it can be spread, if it can be spread asymptomatically, and those sorts of thing," she said. "Until we have better answers for them, as much intellectual input as possible is a good idea."
Weber said it is important for the community to make sure everything stays in perspective in the midst of the extra preparedness. This means remembering there are other more common viruses that are a greater risk to most people.
“Obviously as we communicate with the public, we need to put it in perspective, but we do need to be prepared,” he said.
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